News organizations stepping up diversity efforts, Medill survey finds

This article was originally published on Northwestern University’s Medill Local News Initiative website and is republished here with permission.

More than a year after social justice protests drew attention to the lack of diversity in newsrooms, journalists are reporting notable changes to their media organizations, including new training programs, hiring and policies related to language used about communities of color, survey finds.

Nearly four in five respondents said new efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion had a positive impact on the journalism industry, according to the survey from the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications from Northwestern University. The survey also found that 56.3% of respondents said their media outlets had official posts dedicated to DCI and advocacy work.

The second Medill Media Industry Survey was conducted in late 2021 by Associate Professor Stephanie Edgerly of Medill and Danielle K. Brown, Cowles Professor of Journalism, Diversity, and Equality at the University of Minnesota. More than 1,500 members of the American media filled out the questionnaire.

Medill used Cision, a database of media listings, to obtain the email contact information of people who had at least one of the following keywords in their profile: columnist, correspondent, director, editor, producer , journalist, writer, then sorted the list for news outlets. exceeding a minimum audience size. Exactly 25,000 people were invited to take part in the survey, which was opened between November 30 and December 31.

(Courtesy: Northwestern University’s Medill Local News Initiative)

The survey results indicate a “change” could be happening, Edgerly said. “A majority of people see diversity as a benefit, as a positive for the industry,” she said. “But digging in and committing to a culture change in newsrooms will take more change, effort and support. There is still a lot of work to do. »

One of the difficulties in measuring progress is the lack of a baseline, Brown said. “There are more people at the table. A lot of people are thinking about ways to change,” she said. “But I don’t think they have a grip on the whole package that needs to change drastically, which is what they’re committed to doing.”

The value of the survey data “tells you how widespread these efforts are,” said Tom Rosenstiel, former executive director of the American Press Institute and now Eleanor Merrill Visiting Professor on the Future of Journalism at the University. from Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism. “Is it right that they do these things?” Sure. The real question is what impact these efforts will have.

Some experts on diversity efforts in newsrooms express skepticism about the significance of the changes identified in the survey results. “How deep will the cultural and institutional changes be? asked Martin G. Reynolds, co-executive director of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. “We have a lot of people turning their backs on mainstream news outlets because of decades and decades of prejudice.”

Newsroom diversity has lagged the nation as a whole for generations, and newsroom employees are still more likely to be white and male than American workers in general.

The Pew Research Center found that 77% of those who work as reporters, editors, photographers and videographers in the news industry were non-Hispanic white, according to an analysis of data from the 2012-2016 American Community Survey of the US Census Bureau. Workers of all occupations were 65% non-Hispanic white, a difference of 12 percentage points. About 61% of newsroom workers identified as male, higher than the level of 53% of all workers.

Reflecting these demographic findings, respondents to the Medill survey were overwhelmingly white, at 86.9%. The survey results “represent what newsrooms look like,” Brown noted. “There is a long history of inaction and inadequate action, so people of color tend to be less satisfied with the efforts of their organizations.”

The highest level of satisfaction was found among those working in television news.

(Courtesy: Northwestern University’s Medill Local News Initiative)

When asked if their media organizations value diversity, equity, inclusion and advocacy work, 71% of survey respondents generally agreed. Among TV journalists, more than 80% agreed, and TV journalists were more likely than people working for other types of news organizations to agree that DEI efforts were comprehensive at their employers and that they were satisfied with DEI’s efforts in their newsrooms. TV news organizations were also more likely to have formal positions dedicated to DCI and advocacy work, according to the survey.

In some cases, television executives recognize an opportunity to expand their audience, said Dorothy Tucker, a veteran investigative reporter at CBS 2 Chicago who serves as president of the National Association of Black Journalists. “They look at the bottom line,” she said. “If we dedicate resources to these stories, ultimately our audience will grow.”

Tucker worries that the uptick in diversity efforts at television news organizations will continue after “the next recession or financial pressures,” she said. “Our (NABJ) members are feeling cautiously optimistic. Hope it lasts. »

One indicator to watch is the future status of newsroom executives who have recently been tasked with DEI and advocacy work.

(Courtesy: Northwestern University’s Medill Local News Initiative)

After the killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, newsrooms came under pressure to make immediate changes, and some opted to appoint a diversity officer, noted Doris Truong, director of training and diversity. at Pointer. But it is unclear whether these managers are supported, as some work on DEI part-time, in addition to other duties, or isolated from other staff.

“You can tell your stakeholders, ‘We have someone in charge of DEI’, but what is that person equipped with?” Truong asked. “It’s not something one person can undertake.”

Likewise, hiring a reporter or team dedicated to race could in the long run discourage deeper cultural change in news outlets, Truong said. “People who don’t see the importance of source diversity might say, ‘Well, if you want me to interview that kind of person, that’s the race reporter’s job.

The sustainability of diversity efforts could be boosted by the changing economy, as news outlets become less reliant on big advertisers, Rosenstiel said.

As advertisers pushed newsrooms to tailor their coverage to the wealthier, white-collar audiences they wanted to reach, an increasingly subscription-based business model could encourage more inclusive coverage, Rosenstiel said: ” For publications to survive on subscriptions, memberships and donations, they need to serve pockets and quarters that they have ignored for years and years.

Another indicator to watch, experts say, is the demographic composition of high-ranking decision makers in news outlets. The journalism industry has repeatedly seen efforts to hire diverse talent fail when retention and promotion policies do not change.

Even predominantly white journalists who responded to the Medill survey expressed doubts about the newsroom’s efforts to encourage the retention and inclusion of diverse colleagues. Only 30.7% of survey respondents said their organizations had made changes in this area, well below numbers that have expanded training and updated language policies, for example.

Widespread layoffs following the 2008-09 financial crisis took their toll on journalists of color who had been hired into diversity initiatives in the previous decade, Truong noted. After that, some newsrooms only became more diverse by default as older white journalists retired or left with buyouts. In some cases, staff turnover has resulted in greater representation of journalists of color, but, as Truong said, “that doesn’t mean you’ve actively recruited, retained and promoted them.”

As the news industry continues to fragment, various journalists are making different choices about where is best for them. According to Reynolds, traditional and mainstream news organizations that have long been considered the best employers in the industry have more competition for talent from digital start-ups, nonprofit news organizations and new media ventures. launched by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) entrepreneurs. , from the Maynard Institute.

“What really needs to happen is that news outlets need to create cultures of belonging,” Reynolds said. “A lot of people feel like they don’t belong. They feel they are the only ones there. Their stories and sources are not considered worthy. They are not paid fairly. They are mistreated as colleagues. How could you feel in your place?

NABJ’s Tucker has seen journalists of color choose to leave mainstream news outlets when they are unable to move forward. “They’re not as patient as we were,” Tucker said. ” We waited. We thought that if we kept doing our job, someone would recognize us. Young people today are smarter than us, and they say, “No”.

For proof that today’s diversity efforts are making a difference, count the African Americans in leadership positions in the newsrooms of the future, Tucker said. “It’s still hard for black journalists to get to that level.”

For more details on how the Medill Media Survey was conducted, please see This article. The survey will be discussed at a Medill Centennial panel at 6:00 p.m. Central on Thursday, Feb. 3, with newsroom executives from ABC News, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and Vox Media. Register online for this free event.

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